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- Eben Holden - 6/52 -
bear's tail. The bear he flew mad 'n growled 'n growled so the boy he stopped 'n didn't dast cut no more.
'"Hurts awful," says the bear. "Couldn't never stan' it. Tell ye what I'll dew. Ye scratched my back an' now I'll scratch your'n."
'Gee whiz!' said I.
'Yessir, that's what the bear said,' Uncle Eb went on. 'The boy he up 'n run like a nailer. The bear he laughed hearty 'n scratched the ground like Sam Hill, 'n flung the dirt higher'n his head.
'"Look here," says he, as the boy stopped, "I jes' swallered a piece o mutton. Run yer hand int' my throat an I'll let ye hev it."
'The bear he opened his mouth an' showed his big teeth.'
'Whew!' I whistled.
'Thet's eggszac'ly what he done,' said Uncle Eb. 'He showed 'em plain. The boy was scairter'n a weasel. The bear he jumped up 'an down on his hind legs 'n laughed 'n' hollered 'n' shook himself
'"Only jes' foolin," says he, when he see the boy was goin' t' run ag'in. "What ye 'fraid uv?"
'"Can't bear t' stay here," says the boy, 'less ye'll keep yer mouth shet."
'An the bear he shet his mouth 'n pinted to the big pocket 'n his fur coat 'n winked 'n motioned t' the boy.
'The bear he reely did hev a pocket on the side uv his big fur coat. The boy slid his hand in up t' the elbow. Wha' d'ye s'pose he found?'
'Durmo,' said I.
'Sumthin' t' eat,' he continued. 'Boy liked it best uv all things.'
I guessed everything I could think of, from cookies to beefsteak, and gave up.
'Gingerbread,' said he, soberly, at lengrh.
'Thought ye said bears couldn't talk" I objected.
'Wall, the boy 'd fell asleep an' he'd only dreamed o' the bear,' said Uncle Eb. 'Ye see, bears can'talk when boys are dreamin' uv 'em. Come daylight, the boy got up 'n ketched a crow. Broke his wing with the cross-gun. Then he tied the kite swing on t' the crow's leg, an' the crow flopped along 'n the boy followed him 'n bime bye they come out a cornfield, where the crow'd been used t' comin' fer his dinner.'
'What 'come o' the boy?' said I.
'Went home,' said he, gaping, as he lay on his back and looked up at the tree-tops. 'An' he allwus said a bear was good comp'ny if he'd only keep his mouth shet - jes' like some folks I've hearn uv.'
'An' what 'come o' the crow?'
'Went t' the ol' crow doctor 'n got his wing fixed,' he said, drowsily. And in a moment I heard him snoring.
We had been asleep a long time when the barking of Fred woke us. I could just see Uncle Eb in the dim light of the fire, kneeling beside me, the rifle in his hand.
'I'll fill ye full o' lead if ye come any nearer,' he shouted.
We listened awhile then but heard no sound in the thicket, although Fred was growling ominously, his hair on end. As for myself I never had a more fearful hour than that we suffered before the light of morning came.
I made no outcry, but clung to my old companion, trembling. He did not stir for a few minutes, and then we crept cautiously into the small hemlocks on one side of the opening.
'Keep still,' he whispered, 'don't move er speak.'
Presently we heard a move in the brush and then quick as a flash Uncle Eb lifted his rifle and fired in the direction of it Before the loud echo had gone off in the woods we heard something break through the brush at a run.
''S a man,' said Uncle Eb, as he listened. 'He ain't a losin' no time nuther.'
We sat listening as the sound grew fainter, and when it ceased entirely Uncle Eb said he must have got to the road. After a little the light of the morning began sifting down through the tree-tops and was greeted with innumerable songs.
'He done noble,' said Uncle Eb, patting the old dog as he rose to poke the fire. 'Putty good chap I call 'im! He can hev half o' my dinner any time he wants it.'
'Who do you suppose it was?' I enquired.
'Robbers, I guess,' he answered, 'an' they'll be layin' fer us when we go out, mebbe; but, if they are, Fred'll frnd 'em an' I've got Ol' Trusty here 'n' I guess thet'll take care uv us.'
His rifle was always flattered with that name of Ol' Trusty when it had done him a good turn.
Soon as the light had come clear he went out in the near woods with dog and rifle and beat around in the brush. He returned shortly and said he had seen where they came and went.
'I'd a killed em deader 'n a door nail,' said he, laying down the old rifle, 'if they'd a come any nearer.'
Then we brought water from the river and had our breakfast. Fred went on ahead of us, when we started for the road, scurrying through the brush on both sides of the trail, as if he knew what was expected of him. He flushed a number of partridges and Uncle Eb killed one of them on our way to the road. We resumed our journey without any further adventure. It was so smooth and level under foot that Uncle Eb let me get in the wagon after Fred was hitched to it The old dog went along soberly and without much effort, save when we came to hills or sandy places, when I always got out and ran on behind. Uncle Eb showed me how to brake the wheels with a long stick going downhill. I remember how it hit the dog's heels at the first down grade, and how he ran to keep out of the way of it We were going like mad in half a minute, Uncle Eb coming after us calling to the dog. Fred only looked over his shoulder, with a wild eye, at the rattling wagon and ran the harder. He leaped aside at the bottom and then we went all in a heap. Fortunately no harm was done.
'I declare!' said Uncle Eb as he came up to us, puffing like a spent horse, and picked me up unhurt and began to untangle the harness of old Fred, 'I guess he must a thought the devil was after him.'
The dog growled a little for a moment and bit at the harness, but coaxing reassured him and he went along all right again on the level. At a small settlement the children came out and ran along beside my wagon, laughing and asking me questions. Some of them tried to pet the dog, but old Fred kept to his labour at the heels of Uncle Eb and looked neither to right nor left. We stopped under a tree by the side of a narrow brook for our dinner, and one incident of that meal I think of always when I think of Uncle Eb. It shows the manner of man he was and with what understanding and sympathy he regarded every living thing. In rinsing his teapot he accidentally poured a bit of water on a big bumble-bee. The poor creature struggled to lift hill, and then another downpour caught him and still another until his wings fell drenched. Then his breast began heaving violently, his legs stiffened behind him and he sank, head downward, in the grass. Uncle Eb saw the death throes of the bee and knelt down and lifted the dead body by one of its wings.
'Jes' look at his velvet coat,' he said, 'an' his wings all wet n' stiff.
They'll never carry him another journey. It's too bad a man has t' kill every step he takes.'
The bee's tail was moving faintly and Uncle Eb laid him out in the warm sunlight and fanned him awhile with his hat, trying to bring back the breath of life.
'Guilty!' he said, presently, coming back with a sober face. 'Thet's a dead bee. No tellin' how many was dependent on him er what plans he bed. Must a gi'n him a lot o' pleasure t' fly round in the sunlight, workin' every fair day. 'S all over now.'
He had a gloomy face for an hour after that and many a time, in the days that followed, I heard him speak of the murdered bee.
We lay resting awhile after dinner and watching a big city of ants. Uncle Eb told me how they tilled the soil of the mound every year and sowed their own kind of grain - a small white seed like rice - and reaped their harvest in the late surnmer, storing the crop in their dry cellars under ground. He told me also the story of the ant lion - a big beetle that lives in the jungles of the grain and the grass - of which I remember only an outline, more or less imperfect.
Here it is in my own rewording of his tale: On a bright day one of the little black folks went off on a long road in a great field of barley. He was going to another city of his own people to bring helpers for the harvest. He came shortly to a sandy place where the barley was thin and the hot sunlight lay near to the ground. In a little valley close by the road of the ants he saw a deep pit, in the sand, with steep sides sloping to a point in the middle and as big around as a biscuit. Now the ants are a curious people and go looking for things that are new and wonderful as they walk abroad, so they have much to tell worth hearing after a journey. The little traveller was young and had no fear, so he left the road and went down to the pit and peeped over the side of it.
'What in the world is the meaning of this queer place?' he asked himself as he ran around the rim. In a moment he had stepped over and the soft sand began to cave and slide beneath him. Ouick as a flash the big lion-beetle rose up in the centre of the pit and began
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